MEXICO CITY, Mexico — The language used in the first Sunday paper of 2011 could not have been more attention-grabbing: the capital government, said the Mexico City archdiocese, is so intolerant it acts like a “secular Taliban.”
And sure enough the lively phrase grabbed headlines, flashing over the front pages of several Mexico City newspapers and sparking explosive responses.
Assemblymen for the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, which rules the capital, lashed back that the Roman Catholic Church is a desperate, antiquated institution.
“The church shows it is intellectually bankrupt and lives with its head in the sand,” said PRD representative David Razu.
The archdiocese’s offensive and resulting political fireworks are the latest display of a row that has been heating up between church and state in the Mexican capital in recent years.
Mexico’s culture wars revolve around the liberal reforms of the Mexico City assembly, which has the same power as state legislatures.
In recent years, the leftist assembly has approved same-sex civil unions, abortion up to 12 weeks and a limited form of euthanasia, making Mexico City one of the most socially liberal capitals in the hemisphere.
But it really rattled men of the cloth when a law was enacted last year that allowed full-on, same-sex marriages and provided for these couples to adopt children.
However, while that law released a war of words throughout much of 2010, the battle had largely subsided by the end of the year.
Then the new year editorial reignited the flames to new heights.
Titled “The True Religious Liberty,” the article struck out against the Mexico City laws, saying they respect neither life nor family.
“The authorities are intolerant to criticism and fundamentalist in their immorality,” said the article, published in the archdiocese’s paper.
But the phrase “secular Taliban” was the most striking, painting the leftist lawmakers as fanatics in ungodly thinking.
The reasons why the church hit back so hard now are unclear.
In a news conference, PRD city leader Hortensia Aragon said the attack showed signs of a new crusade that could play a part in elections next year.
In 2012, Mexicans will elect a new Mexico City mayor and assembly as well as a national president.
Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard — who has strongly backed gay marriage and other reforms — has announced he would like to run for president in the 2012 race. Current President Felipe Calderon is a conservative Catholic.
“The PRD laments the position that the Catholic hierarchy are showing they will play in the 2012 elections,” Aragon said. “We energetically reject this clear threat to those who legitimately try to govern this country from the left.”
Mexico’s secular constitution, established in 1917 after the bloody revolution, prohibits the church from involvement in politics.
However, with 89 percent of Mexicans professing to be Roman Catholics, the words of clergymen still have a strong influence.
The church has openly stated that it wants to stop the liberal reforms of the capital spreading to the more conservative provinces, and applauded very strict abortion laws there.
However, while leftists argue clerics should be fined for such campaigns, church officials argue that they are merely carrying out the instructions of Rome to promote the policies of life.
Gay marriage and abortion, the Sunday editorial said, “show a lack of respect for human life and the fundamental family institution of healthy social living.”
The conservative National Action Party of Calderon held back from commenting on the latest spat.
But several newspaper editorials said the church had gone a little too far with their language.
“The oxymoron 'secular Taliban' is almost comical,” wrote Francisco Baez in La Cronica daily. “It is a complete contradiction of terms. The Taliban look for a society based on strict religious interpretation, a society with no space to think or act. Secular societies look for precisely the opposite.”